Field force automation

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Field force automation (FFA) refers to the use of technology to capture field sales or service information in real time. This involves use of technology, typically handheld PDAs, wireless devices, tablet PCs or mobile phones to capture data. The captured data is transferred immediately to back end systems (ERP, CRM or accounting systems) through wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi, 3G, satellite or GPRS). This instant capture of information reduces time delays, avoids manual double entry data errors and enhances field force productivity. From an operations perspective, availability of field information in near real time allows to plan delivery schedules, reduce inventory and monitor and control the field workers.

The biggest challenge in field force automation is in developing a simple, but usable, user interface for the hand held device / mobile, and connectivity at the location of information capture. Connectivity can be overcome by having a system which can retain the information captured in the device cache and later synchronize with back-end systems (thick client).

"Field service is increasingly viewed as an integral part of a unified customer strategy, improved over time as part of a careful project. This can also be thought of as service life cycle management or service resource planning. It is as integral as sales, marketing and customer support to product-centric businesses. Another factor bringing field service into focus for many North American and European enterprises is the aging of the workforce, and the challenges with passing along process and customer knowledge to new employees, while also reducing the head count or keeping it flat. This makes the efficiencies gained by FSM suites and mobile automation key mitigating tactics."[1]

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